Sunday, April 17, 2011

Virvon, varvon...

Or maybe something like "I will wish, whisk and whack/ you health and happiness/for this new season/ for you the branch/ for me the prize." in a coarse translation.

I was planning on a first post on simple living today, but instead I want to bring you a beautiful folk-custom of my native land.
On Palm Sunday, on the snowy streets of Finnish towns, one may run into packs of lovely little witches like these. They are engaging in the ancient custom of Virpominen, one of the many the onslaught of Christianity in the medieval times was never quite able to assimilate or eradicate.
Similar to the American Halloween-tradition, Virpominen involves kids going from door to door in costume looking for treats, but unlike Halloween, the dress code is pretty uniform and the kids actually have something to barter.
In the days preceding Palm Sunday, most kindergarten, pre-schools and 1st through 12th grade classes collect budding Pussy Willow branches to craft these fancy feathered wands, called virpovitsa. The kids make more at home (the greedier you are for chocolate the more you'll want to make), adorning them with paper flowers, ribbons, feathers (in the egg-related Oestre tradition of fertility for the new growth season) and perhaps even a painted or gold-papered eggs.
On Sunday morning they rise early to dress in their witch finery: longs skirts over winter pants, aprons, head-scarves and Russian shawls. Their mothers paint red apples on their cheeks and freckles over their noses. They are not impersonating pointy-hatted crones (except that one girl, clearly an American import ;), but fertile young witch-maids, robust and carrying blessings.
Noidiksi pukeutuneita virpojia oli liikeellä kauniissa kevätsäässä Espoossa Palmusunnuntaina.
When they're all dressed up they gather their baskets and head out to the neighborhood. They travel in packs and it is considered to be bad luck not to have a treat to offer to each them (Money works too, but apples are bad form. Hear that, old ladies?).
They appear at your door chanting the above translated blessing, patting you gently with the branch which you will receive in exchange for the chocolate eggs and bunnies. It's just a joyful sight to open the door to little girls(mostly) beaming up at you, clutching their colored branches.
If I ever have kids, I heartily hope to bring this charming tradition into their lives. It is a fertility rite in honor of spring, sowing seed, letting cattle out to pasture, and in a 96 % Lutheran nation, a bit of nature magic that's survived through the ages. Heck, there are even bonfires involved in the traditional Finnish Easter. And a very disturbing dessert.
So Happy Easter To You And Yours! How does your family celebrate this holiday?

Health happiness and a multitude of blessings on your house this new planting season, or "Virvon, varvon/tuoreeks, terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks/sulle vitsa/ mulle palkka",
Milla

30 comments:

  1. As if they could not make little Finnish children any cuter... they decided to paint little freckles on them? Adorable! I love all of the wonderful rural customs that have been maintained in parts of northern Europe. Very cool!

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  2. What a beautiful tradition! <3 Thank you for sharing!

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  3. I had never heard of this custom before and I thank you for teaching me about it. It seems like a more positive version of Halloween and I loved learning about it. How cute are all their little outfits!
    XOXO

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  4. Oh whoa wow! That is so interesting..Thank you so much for this. Dude, the red cheeks and freckles, heart melting!

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  5. i love this! you know, i was just thinking a few days ago that one of the cool little side benefits to getting to know you is that i have zero knowledge of Finland or that region of the world. it's been really cool to see the little bits of pieces of your homeland. i know quite a bit about lots of other parts of the worlds in terms of culture, religion, traditions etc, but really, nothing about that region. so thanks! this is really interesting and those kids are adorable. i love the costume and what a fun idea to make colorful branches to trade with. and i love how it's survived despite christianity! love this!

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  6. i vote we adopt this tradition in the states. who's with me?

    xo

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  7. awww, this was just a little blessing to read tonight. i have never heard of it or anything like it, and yet you paint the picture so wonderfully i can just imagine this little witchy girls romping through the neighborhoods delivered a bit of magic and delight. someone left some pussy willows by our front door yesterday! i would like to think it is somehow related. i agree with b; it's been such a treat learning about the culture of your homeland. and i agree with nicole too; let's catch it on here!!!

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  8. I just love this! Thank you!

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  9. This is so cool! :) Thank you for posting about this lovely tradition.

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  10. oh, thank you so much for sharing this. it's only 7a.m. and already it was turning into a jaggedy kind of day. your story, the pictures, and the chants have sown me right back up, with giddiness.

    if you were going to incorporate this into your child's life, how would you do it in a country that doesn't celebrate it? i spose if i lived in a smaller town or cohousing community, i could rally everyone to participate. i'd love to hear your inklings on how to bring a version of this into the home.

    and i tried my tongue at saying the verse in finnish. wow! the words felt really good tumbling around in my mouth.

    although you may sometimes look like a 70's teacher, i think you look a little like the girls of virpominen, too.

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  11. Thank you a million for sharing this! I love seasonal traditions... especially ones that involve dressing up and visiting your neighbours. To make this even better, it is little girls who get to dress up (as it seems like in so many places it's the boys who get to have all the fun... even North American halloween was a boys only thing until *relatively* recently). This is great, it made my day and I've been showing everyone all the cute pictures!

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  12. Gosh..Easter here in Central Illinois is so boring! All we do is eat candy. :3

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  13. this is so awesome, thank you for sharing!

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  14. Oh man, this custom has CLOVER written all over it!!! I think this is the best holiday custom I've ever heard of, and I'm so ready to trade the Easter Bunny in for some adorable little feather wand bearing witches!

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  15. What an adorable tradition! I wish there were something like that here. How sweet. I was raised Catholic, and while I was in school I used to have to go to church and such, but my family was never very strictly religious so our Easters were mostly just another excuse to get together and give the kids chocolates and wine for the adults haha.

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  16. Milla this is so wonderful!
    Ok.......please do explain Mammi! I couldn't read a thing!

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  17. What I love so much is....the givers of the treats get to have a vase of beautifully decorated pussywillow sticks!!! For the new beginnings! Like feather flowers!

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  18. Those are the most beautiful little witches ever!!!! I'm glad Christianity wasn't able to eradicate this tradition...there are so many honest homage to life festivals/traditions/rituals that we have no more; ..it pisses me off...pisses me off at how far from ourselves (as humans) we have become. It means something to me that once upon a time we used to be thankful to the earth, the weather, new life, we respected the cyclical nature of EVERYTHING, ...and I wish that the knowledge and awareness of our dependence on the very ground we stand...was still with us as a worldwide community now. I know, there is no going back now...but sometimes I get mad. Ye olde Christian propaganda was very successful. My kids still believe in the Easter Bunny, and we're Agnostic, so it's all about chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday and a very large dinner. The new life aspect of Easter (religious and seasonal) is kind of lost down here, as the trees are shutting up shop for winter! Then again...I'll be planting brocolli, Asian greens, spinach and silverbeet in the next couple of weekends. So perhaps there'll be some new life afterall.x

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  20. This. Is. The sweetest thing everrrr!
    I love Andrea's "As if they could not make Finnish children any cuter..."
    This reminds me of the thing I posted on Facebook recently about the word for beautiful in the Russian language meaning "healthy and rosy cheeked" or something like that.
    So darling.
    Also, like Brigit said, I fully knew nothing about Finland until you twirled into my life and swept me off my feet. I'm so glad we got to talk about it a bit at Ike's, and for these wonderful posts!
    Much love sister.

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  21. I love the fact that they trade their feathered sticks for treats!!! And those little head coverings and freckles??? So cute! Again, I love hearing about Finland from you since it's where my hubby's family is from... therefore a piece of my girls as well! We'll be doing the traditional egg hunting (from eggs that I have yet to blow yokes out of... going to church, and heading to my grandparents house to help them with cleaning/landscaping their acres of land! Happy Easter Milla!!!

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  22. those feathered pussy willow branches are adorable, as are the kids, of course! so good. what a fun tradition! missa's right -- this is SO up clover's alley!!

    'round these parts we always take my stepson to the sisters of perpetual indulgence's easter egg roll -- a bunch of drag queens put on an easter egg hunt for kids in a giant park. basically, it's tons of glitter, giggles and good times. we will do the easter basket thing too, hiding eggs we've dyed throughout our apt along with candy, etc.

    my boys love baseball, and i bought us all tickets to a giants game as one of their christmas presents without realizing it was on easter! so we're going to a game too...which i really haven't done much in my life, so it'll be a new experience for me. :) i am looking forward to having cotton candy, a giant crab sandwich and peanuts in the shell at the ballpark this easter! :)

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  23. What a gift this post is! If that's not the sweetest custom ever?! These bright happy children are so, so, SO sweet. I can't believe I've never heard a word about this custom. Thank you much for enlightening us.

    And yes, Joan Didion is one of my very favorite writers. I've often fantasized about having her as a neighbor seeing that in all my dream options - she always comes in first. How cool would that be?

    We are still new to family traditions - figuring it out as we go. Hopefully we find something that sticks, and carries on through the years. That's what holidays are for, right?

    Happy Easter my Finnish friend,
    J

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  24. how freakin' cute! the painted on freckles are too adorable. i always love hearing about your homeland and all the wonderful traditions :D

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  25. Hei!
    Olen vaihto-oppilas suomessa ja minä tulin juuri truulittamasta ystäviän kanssa. Tiedämme että se pitäisi olla vain pienille lapsille mutta oli niin hauska mennä kavereiden työ ja toivoa heille terveys. Kiva perinne!
    Hyvää Pääsiäistä!

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  26. What a wonderful tradition! So sweet and colorful! I'm so happy to have learned about it from you!

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  27. Makes at least as much sense as a rabbit who lays chocolate eggs.

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  28. Virpominen is an Orthodox Christian custom and as many pagan customs, Orthodoxy has included them into the religion (under a Christian name) to attract more believers.

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